Balshaw ready to sign for Leeds as Bath cut losses

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Iain Balshaw, an elusive talent in more ways than one, is expected to agree lucrative terms with Leeds over the next few days after failing to secure a new contract at Bath, his sporting home for the last seven years. The England full-back has been out of the public eye since tweaking a groin muscle last month and may have made his last appearance for the West Country club, who have long wondered if their injury-prone Lion represents value for money.

Balshaw, who celebrates his 25th birthday tomorrow, would be a natural replacement for the equally mercurial Dan Scarbrough, who is abandoning life at Headingley for a fresh start at Saracens. Should the move go ahead, he will renew acquaintances with Jon Callard, himself an international full-back, who worked with Balshaw at the Recreation Ground before losing his job as head coach in murky circumstances two years ago. Callard is now a senior coach at Leeds.

At his best, Balshaw is the most natural attacking runner in the English game; a Christian Cullen for the northern hemisphere, capable of plotting a route through the most impenetrable of defensive thickets. But he has not been at his best nearly often enough for Bath's liking - long lay-offs after surgery on both shoulders and an ankle have not helped - and prominent figures at the Rec have been known to question his commitment to the cause.

Now that Bath have Matt Perry back in circulation - if there is one player whose attitude is entirely beyond criticism, it is England's most decorated full-back - they do not consider Balshaw's imminent departure to be the catastrophe it might have been in 2001, when he was running rings round the best of Europe in a vintage Six Nations' tournament spell with England.

The national hierarchy have kept faith with him, and he was on the field as the red rose army won the World Cup in Australia, but he would have been dropped after the defeat by Ireland at Twickenham in March had he not picked up his latest injury.

Yesterday, a Leeds spokesman confirmed his club's interest in Balshaw. "There is no agreement yet, but we are talking to Iain," he said. "It is fair to say that we are very keen to bring him to Headingley."

Last week, Leeds confirmed contract extensions for two international backs, the Scottish stand-off Gordon Ross and the Argentinian wing Diego Albanese, while signing the highly rated England Under-21 centre Chris Bell from Harlequins.

England's Under-19s lost their International Rugby Board Championship play-off match with South Africa in Durban despite being 31-17 ahead at one stage. The Springboks recovered to win 38-31 and secure third place in the tournament, but their victory was soured by allegations of biting.

The referee, Paul Marks, warned the Springbok captain, Pieter Louw, about the behaviour of his team midway through the second half.